ORSON WELLES’ F FOR FAKE (1973)

In hindsight, F For Fake (1973) might be seen as inevitable. In an interview with Jean Clay from almost a decade before the film’s release, Welles warned: “If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you.” Admitting that most what he says is fabricated, Welles astutely advised: “Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man.”

Yet, there is something of a gimmick even in that statement. It was through the medium of radio that Welles delivered his first hurrah of trickery, at the ripe old age of 23 on October 30, 1938. The reaction to Welles’ sharply directed radio dramatization of  H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” is impossible to fathom now; in the era before internet, cable, and television, Welles broadcast of a faked Martian invasion of New Jersey caused a nationwide panic. Believing it was the end of the world as we know it, the masses rioted and looted. In the resulting exodus, traffic was jammed in neighboring cities. Hundreds—if not thousands—died. Those of weak hearts dropped dead. The rivers beneath bridges were flowing with the bodies of suicides. Orson Welles immediately became a household name.

Only, those reports were predominantly fake as well. The station did not have a sizable audience. Few were actually listening to the broadcast, let alone fooled by it. There were a scant number of purported deaths, with the highest estimates ranging from five to twenty. However, that was enough for Welles and company to shrewdly feed the press until it escalated into a glorious myth. Thank God we’ve evolved past that now… well, until a certain political faker last year spewed, without a shred of evidence, “I saw thousands of Muslims [replacing Martians] cheering in New Jersey on 911” and his sycophants went “ooh” and “ahh” to the cheap parlor trick.

Unlike politicians, Welles called himself out in F For Fake, as he did thirty-five years prior when he manufactured a public apology for the unintentional catastrophe caused by manufactured Martians. To the world at large, Welles’ apology only confirmed the epic scale of that 1938 disaster.

Although Welles was nearly fired from RKO over the radio broadcast, such trickery deserved a reward. Welles eventually got it when the studio gave him carte blanche for the production of Citizen Kane(1941). If you haven’t heard of it, it’s this little movie about a newspaper magnate and charlatan that caused an epic backlash, but a few critics seemed to like it somewhat.

Like that infamous Martian debacle, a baroque cult grew around  F For Fake and for years, but with poor distribution, it was more discussed than seen. Fortunately, the 2005 Criterion Collection release remedied that. Welles himself guides us through an innovative and entertaining mirrored labyrinth of forgeries. Despite the hearty laugh and kaleidoscopic mischief, like all of Welles, there is an inherent sense of loneliness peeking through the facade.

Of course, documentaries (Welles referred to F for Fake as a theatrical essay) are supposed to be factual. Who but Welles would render the medium as surrealistic taffy, focusing on a trilogy of frauds, including himself?  With a wave of his thick magician’s hand, Welles breathlessly narrates the viewer through 90 minutes of punchily paced, whirlwind intercutting and briskly edited farce. The editing process, however, was anything but brisk, taking an entire year. It shows. In one compelling sequence, Welles, a painter himself, compares film editing to painting, paralleling composition in the two mediums.

Welles’ oeuvre belongs to that category of complexities that require repeated viewing. This, his last completed film, is no exception. It’s as cheeky and mosaic a swan song as could be hoped for from American cinema’s ace oversized sorcerer.

While The Lady from Shanghai (1947) is famous for its climatic hall of mirrors sequence, F For Fake is more mirror than celluloid. Picasso once said that all art, regardless of subject matter, is self-portrait. Welles, whose own self-portraits are among his most successful canvases, confirms this by assuring us that he is not much different from Elmyr de Hory, a true Paganini of the palette and one of the world’s most foremost talented art forgers who replicated Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, and Matisse with startling ease. So successful a forger was Elmyr that when he committed suicide just three years after being featured in F for Fake(French authorities had just successfully secured permission to extradite him), many initially assumed that he had faked his death.

Elmyr’s biographer Clifford Irving was far more infamous for his forged “authorized” autobiography of billionaire . Irving had claimed that Hughes, admiring his Elmyr biography “Fake!” agreed to a series of interviews. After McGraw-Hill paid him a six figure advance, Irving never expected recluse Hughes to publicly denounce the book, but the aviator did just that in 1972, which resulted in the forger serving over a year in prison. For those of us old enough to remember, it was the biggest hoax of the decade. Welles is impressed enough to award Irving the coveted number one faker honor (Elmyr comes in second) introducing him as: “The author of ‘Fake!,’ a book about a faker who was himself a faker and the author of a fake to end all fakes.” Welles proudly concludes that Irving “must have been cooking it up when we were filming him. If you can buy the notion that Irving turned to forgery before he turned to Elmyr, then I guess you can keep right on through the looking glass and believe that his book about Elmyr is a pack of lies. ‘Fake!’ is a fake and Elmyr himself is a fake faker.”

In the selfie portion of the film, Welles brags how he lied his way into his first acting gig at the age of 16 when he told Dublin casting directors that he was a famous star in New York and, somehow, got them to believe him. What he says next could be a summation for the director of Citizen Kane who failed to top himself with his follow-up films: “I began at the top and have been working my way down ever since. If acting is an art, cooking up a bogus Broadway career was a fine case of art forgery.” Of course, there is also… Mars: “In my past, there aren’t any Picassos. No, my next flight into fakery was by flying saucer.”

Oddly, that flight is brief, and after an even quicker traversal through the life of mystery man Hughes and his litany of doubles, Welles utilizes his longtime mistress Oja Kodar (whose father was an also an art forger) as eroticized bait for Pablo Picasso, who solicits a series of portraits. It’s an unexpected and extended sequence… that is entirely faked.

Perhaps sensing that F For Fake might be his epithet, Welles dons cape and glove, waxes about mortality and art, and leaves us a film with one final mystery: rumor has it that most of the footage was actually directed  by Francois Reichenbach.

*reprinted from 366 Weird Movies

1973 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, AND SISTERS

Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein was the fourth film directed by Paul Morrisey under Andy Warhol‘s banner; although it seems that apart from co-producing, the American pop art icon had no creative input, which may be why, in Europe, it was released under the title Flesh For Frankenstein. Morrisey made this film back-to-back with Andy Warhol’s Dracula, which we will cover when 1974 rolls around. Both films star Udo Kier and  Joe Dallesandro (who also starred in the Morrissey/Warhol “hustler” trilogy FleshTrash, and Heat). Frankenstein is the more outrageous of the two horror films. It stars Kier as a fascistic, narcissistic, necrophiliac Baron Frankenstein who, in his most infamous scene, cuts open the ribcage of a woman (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and has sex with her gall bladder.  Naturally, this scene made Kier a cult celebrity, a position he would cement with Dracula.

Still from Andy Warhol's Frankenstein/Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

 

Shot in 3-D, Frankenstein aims directly to satirize the sexploitation/horror demographic with a high quota of gore and sex—the latter supplied by Monique Van Vooren as the unloved nymphomaniac Baroness, wife and sister to the Baron, and Dallesandro as the stable boy who services her. Aptly, the film opens with the Baron and Baroness as children dissecting and  beheading a doll, but “Addams Family” this isn’t: the good doctor’s supply of cadavers comes from bordellos rather than the traditional cemetery. Kier and Van Vooren are ideally cast, with her armpit sucking competing with his gallbladder screwing. Although undeniably dated, it’s every bit as outrageous as it sounds.

When writer William Peter Blatty  and director William Friedkin unleashed The Exorcist on the world, few had any idea the impact it would make. Shining across our small 1973 TV sets, the original trailer was subdued. Although the book upon which it was based had been a best seller, only its readers knew what it was about. I don’t remember a lot of publicity beforehand, but all that changed on the weekend it was released. Newspapers were issuing warnings of something unimaginably terrifying, theaters were equipped with barf bags, and in our neck of the woods, churches were condemning it as propaganda coming from Satan himself. Indeed, the fallen angel had been rising quite high since 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, but, at least as far as box office, even that seminal (and superior) film did not have the impact of The Exorcist. Initially, its critical standing was mixed, although now it seems to top all those “best of” horror lists. Word of mouth made a trend of fear, and it was years before anyone from our tribe saw it.

The tidal wave of Satanic themed films to follow was unprecedented, and, needless to say, preachers and Sunday school teachers found job security for another decade. The original was followed by John Boorman’s visually dazzling camp disaster, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and Blatty’s belated Exorcist III (1990), which some feel is actually superior to the original.

With his newfound popularity, Old Nick signed up for Satan’s School for Girls to mess with that “forgotten” Charlie’s angel, Kate Jackson, and Farrah’s replacement, Cheryl Ladd. He has a pretty good time of it too, and his fun is contagious.

Among the infamous DVD double features hosted by the buxom camp horror diva, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), is Werewolf of Washington and Satanic Rites Of Dracula. The former, directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg and starring Dean Stockwell is as dreadful as it sounds. Worse, it’s humorless.

Alan Gibson’s Satanic Rites of Dracula is a direct sequel to his previous Dracula A.D. 1972, with the vampire in 1970s London. Gibson later directed “Silent Scream” (with Peter Cushing) and “Two Faces Of Evil,” which are two superior (and stylishly surreal) episodes from the cult TV series “Hammer’s House Of Horrors.”

Although superior to its 1972 AD predecessor for sheer abnormality alone, Rites is still one hell of a mess. In his brief screen time, the Price of Darkness ( Christopher Lee) has become an eccentric recluse in a mansion, plotting to destroy the world by unleashing a bacterial virus! Oh, and he is connected to a Satanic cult, which of course brings in Scotland Yard and Van Helsing (Cushing again), who easily dispatches the vampire with a thorn bush (vapidly symbolic of Jesus’ crown of thorns). The preposterousness of this Dr. Who and the Avengers vs. a vampire Howard Hughes (or is that Fu Manchu?) scenario is exacerbated by an evil Asian agent, assassins on bikes, biological warfare, female vampires, and nudity, making for an idiosyncratic hodgepodge. Lee was rightly fed up with writers who had no clue what do with the character, and chose to remain permanently staked after this. After making his belated appearance, Dracula suffers what has to be the most absurd of his screen deaths. Amazingly, his fellow bloodsuckers have an even more embarrassing exit, snuffed out by a sprinkler.Both Lee and Cushing muster little enthusiasm. Gibson steers through a maze of nonsense with a degree of competence, although the script clearly needed something exceptional. Sill, with all its flaws, this is an unexpected exit for the series, and is bizarre enough to be held with affection by some fans of Hammer studios.

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TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973) & FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987)

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Freddie Francis’ Tales That Witness Madness, made for World Film Services in 1973, is clearly patterned after the Amicus horror anthologies. Of course, what better way to emulate the competition than to acquire the man who directed nearly half of the Amicus franchise, along with several of that studio’s top draw actors?

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The setup is simple and familiar enough: Donald Pleasance is the resident psychiatrist of an asylum, giving friend Jack Hawkins (in his final film) a tour of the grounds. Along the way, he tells the stories of four inmates.

In “Mr. Tiger,” Russell Lewis’ imaginary feline pet beast takes a sour view of his master’s verbally abusive parents. Just how imaginary the tiger is questioned after some clawing on the door and blood splattering on Oedipal walls.

A time traveling bicycle is at the malevolent heart of “Penny Farthing.” It stars Peter McEnery as an antique shop owner and Suzy Kendall as his wife. Soon, they discover the bike is literally antique and … we’re so sorry, Uncle Albert.

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“Mel” stretches credibility when Michael Jayston is more interested in an oddly shaped tree than he is in oversexed wife Joan Collins in something pink from Frederick’s of Hollywood. It’s the most remembered segment for a reason—it’s a camp hoot, with Collins channeling her inner jealous diva. The tree tries to upstage the human competition, which is not an easy task against Joan in a flimsy nightie, wielding an axe.

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tales-that-witness-madness-1973

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DORIS WISHMAN’S DEADLY WEAPONS (1974)/DOUBLE AGENT 73 (1974)

DEADLY WEAPONS (1974 Doris Wishman) Theatrical poster

Doris Wishman‘s Deadly Weapons (1973) and Double Agent 73 (1974), both starring 73FF(!)-32-36 Chesty Morgan, makes for a bizarre double feature, and a bizarre Something Weird Blu-ray release. This set (entitled “Chesty Morgan’s Bosom Buddies”) also includes a third feature The Immoral Three (1975), which does not include Morgan (who had, remarkably, taken the star bit between her teeth and was promptly sacked by Wishman). We focus on the first two features starring Chesty.

DEADLY WEAPONS (1974)

John Waters had the incomparable Divine. Wishman had the incomparable Chesty Morgan. The big difference is that Divine could actually act. Morgan, an exploitation freak of nature, was the energizer bunny rabbit to Wishman’s directorial enthusiasm.

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